The most exciting upcoming Marvel game is now Midnight Suns, a tactical RPG from the Firaxis team behind alien invasion strategy games XCOM: Enemy Unknown and XCOM 2. It was just announced at Gamescom, and it's out surprisingly soon, in March 2022. And if you're expecting "XCOM but with Marvel heroes," designer Jake Solomon says you're going to be surprised.
Marvel's Midnight Suns was revealed with a cinematic trailer (embedded above) at Geoff Keighley's Gamescom show today, but gameplay isn't being revealed until next week. Yesterday, I pelted a 2K rep with questions, some of which were forwarded to Solomon, until a picture formed of a game that's as similar to Mass Effect 2 as it is XCOM, with a few surprising Stardew Valley touches. Here's what I learned:
Midnight Suns isn't a Marvel-skinned XCOM, but it is structured like an XCOM game. There's a base that can be upgraded, called The Abbey, from which you'll select missions out in the world. Before embarking on one of the turn-based combat missions, you'll choose three heroes from a cast of 12 Marvel troublemakers to come along. So far, nine of those heroes have been announced: Dr. Strange, Magik, Iron Man, Wolverine, Ghost Rider (the Robbie Reyes version), Blade, Captain America, Nico Minoru, and Captain Marvel.
Beyond that setup, though, Midnight Suns diverges from XCOM in big, fundamental ways. For one thing, you aren't an invisible sky commander. When you pick three heroes to come on a mission, they're joining your character, a customizable new Marvel hero named The Hunter. As The Hunter, you'll be at the center of a story about a team of heroes assembled to defeat Lilith, the godlike Mother of Demons. (Also, she's the mother of you. Drama!)
Midnight Suns is a singleplayer RPG that tells one story. There's no permadeath, and failed missions can be retried until you beat them. It's not a simulated war of the worlds like XCOM, but a more traditional Mass Effect-style campaign, although even that comparison doesn't hold up perfectly, because Firaxis hasn't gone for shocking story branches. Your decisions influence how Midnight Suns plays out in the Renegade Shepard vs Paragon Shepard sense, but not in the Mass Effect 2 'who lives and who dies' sense, or with Mass Effect 3's infamous color-coded endings.
And despite being turn-based, the combat in Midnight Suns is "completely different" from XCOM's, according to Solomon.
“When we were first designing combat in Marvel’s Midnight Suns, we quickly realized that the mechanics of XCOM wouldn’t work in this game," he said. "In XCOM, you take a group of soldiers and they are outmanned and outgunned by the alien threat. In Marvel’s Midnight Suns, you are a superhero and you should feel like the coolest person on the battlefield. Those mechanics from XCOM that were designed for that game didn’t translate to Marvel’s Midnight Suns, and we can say that combat in this game is completely different.”
As one example, a 2K rep suggested that it doesn't make sense for heroes to miss punches, which means that hit chance percentages are probably out. Solomon also said that combat "plays much, much faster" than in the XCOM games. It's all a bit hard to explain without showing it, I'm told, so we should get some clarity when the gameplay trailer premieres next week.
The out-of-combat portion of Midnight Suns might be more exciting, especially to Marvel fans. Your base, The Abbey, isn't a cross-section you scroll around like in XCOM. It's a 3D environment you can explore in third-person as The Hunter. You can hang out with heroes and become friends with them, a process which can include giving them gifts and joining social clubs. That's right: When you're not fighting your mother, the Mother of Demons, you're concerned with getting Wolverine to like you.
I did learn who you choose to bring on missions with you will influence your friendships, and that some missions require specific heroes. There are also secrets to find by exploring The Abbey, and NPCs other than your hero friends, including your aunt, who's running the show, and a hellhound named Charlie. (Yes, I asked if you can pet the hellhound. You can pet the hellhound.)
If it sounds a bit weird that Lilith's daughter and sister are working against her, your concerns will be reflected in some of the heroes who join the Midnight Suns—they're not all going to trust The Hunter's intentions, at least at the start. Another little twist is that Lilith can corrupt anyone with a touch. It doesn't sound like that'll be a game system where your own crew can be turned against you, but we are going to see "Fallen versions of iconic Marvel characters" show up as opponents.
There's no comic book writer collaboration to announce here: 2K tells me that both Solomon and the game's narrative director, Chad Rocco, are big Marvel fans. They and other members of the team created the story for Midnight Suns, which is loosely based on the comics featuring the Midnight Sons, a team of heroes set up to defend the Earth from supernatural elements. The name was tweaked to express that it's not a direct adaptation of Rise of the Midnight Sons, and that the members aren't all men in this version.
When it releases in March of next year, Midnight Suns will be available for PC on Steam and the Epic Games Store. The gameplay trailer will be revealed on September 1 at 11:30 am Pacific on midnightsuns.com. I'm curious to see what this faster, not-like-XCOM turn based combat looks like, but also pretty curious to see what it looks like to hang out with Dr. Strange in a spooky house, and how Solomon, Rocco, and crew have interpreted Marvel's characters.
"I grew up reading and loving Marvel games," Solomon says. "To be entrusted with these characters and their stories is an honor for me and the team. If you're a Marvel fan, or an RPG fan, or a fan of tactics games, Marvel's Midnight Suns will make these beloved characters come alive in a way that you've never seen before."